Thursday, 30 August 2012

First Experiment of the Awakening Your Genius Method

So, two posts ago I laid out the 'Awakening Your Genius' Method, the purpose of which is to allow all parts of your brain to contribute to your writing and to get yourself into the right mindset to sit down and write. Well, yesterday being my day off from work, I tested out the method.

Overview of my day:
Woke up at 8.30 am. Made breakfast of porridge (with almonds, apricots and coconut, hmmm... delicious. Though I did accidentally make enough for a minor army.)
Now usually I take about half an hour from getting up to sitting down to write, which includes breakfast, some bible reading/prayer time, and recently attempts to improve my meditation abilities.
Yesterday, after making breakfast I pulled out pen and paper and while eating started brainstorming about my story. I will very happily admit that this was super useful. I did this for probably 45 minutes and worked out the next few scenes and planned how much I wanted to write for that day.

Following the method, I then took my drafting and went for a twenty minute walk. I did forget that I was meant to be just watching the story in my mind rather than plotting out how to write it, but otherwise was generally pretty good. Though, as it is almost the beginning of spring, it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out, the sun was shining, the air was sweet with blossom scent, and I was in my daggy trackies because the method includes shower after walk. Oh well.

Got back and had my shower, then lay down in my spare little study nook to try and meditate.

Wow, I really suck at meditation. I have had good sessions in the past, but this was definitely not one of them. My legs were itchy, and there were some workmen outside my apartment (which is quite freaky as I'm on the second floor, but they are working on the roof next door). I got cold, and kept almost falling asleep, etc. etc.

Now the method states that you should stay meditating until you feel a sudden surge of energy to get up and write, and in a semi sleep walking state, you sit down and write with super power focus.

However, if you can't wait til the surge because you start getting too cold and are falling asleep, it doesn't seem to have the same power.

By the time I sat down to write it was 10.30am. I then wrote for 2.5 hours and got 5,000 words done. (while still breaking every hour to get a new cup of tea, and in this case make sausage rolls for lunch).

The writing session was good, but it wasn't magically so. I've had better flow days. Furthermore, the thing that made it easiest was not my meditative state, but the fact I had said I needed to write these set three scenes, as worked out in brainstorming.

The biggest problem with the method for me was that it took me an extra hour and half before sitting down to write, and didn't get me any extra words. That is 3,000 words I could have written if I had just sat straight down. And by 2pm I felt like I had spent my entire morning writing, while only get half what I should have got done.

In fairness I then read my book for a bit, and had a nap (which turned into about a three hour snooze), and woke up grumpy and groggy. I felt like I had got none of the other things done that I wanted, but still didn't have enough words. This I blamed entirely on the method and not on my mega-nap.

I wrote for a bit more that night, but felt dry and grumpy so went to the gym and then got into bed and knitted while listening to podcasts.

So, general summary of first experiment:
- Brainstorming before hand what to write for that session seems a good idea.
- The walk is just good for you, and so you should do it anyway.
- The meditation thing I think would be better a) if I practised more and b) if I had a blanket so I didn't get cold (but would still have the falling asleep issue). However, it is only of use if you are writing full time. If you only have two hours to write in, I think it's much better to use that time writing.

But I will try again on the weekend.

Tomorrow is my last day of work at my day job for 2.5 weeks! Yah! I've got a week of just plain holiday (though I'm tutoring a uni subject for one of the colleges, so will have to read up on that and go in and teach it: Arab-Israeli Conflict, fun times). The second week, very excitingly, I'm going to be an extra on a new TV series! For all you Australians who have seen Paper Giants, they are making a second one, and I'm going to be in the background of all the Woman's Day office shots! Look out for my amazing 80's fashion and hair. However, shooting is 12-14hours per day, so there is a very good chance I won't get that much writing actually done. Will see if I can make up for it in this coming week.

But, after tomorrow, I'm going to keep trying out the method and see if practising my meditation improves things at all.

Will come back with more data for you to analyse.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Small Piece of Advice With Big Consequences

A small piece of advice I would offer to anyone who is thinking of spending a couple of hours a day writing: start chewing gum while you write.

I am not a gum chewer, and I think it should not be done in public, ever. Except possibly on planes to stop your ears popping.  However, I found out the calorific way that when I write, my mouth likes the distraction of chewing.

I started bribing myself to sit down and write by saying I could eat chocolate while I did it. Now, I'm a suck on it until it melts kind of chocolate eater, so I was shocked to find that while I was writing, I would just keep popping it into my mouth and crunching down. When you are writing for a few hours straight, the amount of chocolate you can go through like that is just plain scary.

I have since switched to sugarfree chewing gum (along with giving up chocolate and caffeine completely). The chewing does seem to help my writing thought process, and also it stops me from eating anything else.

Seems like a small piece of advice, but saves me hundreds of calories a day, which would result in possibly an extra two kilos a month, making me 24kgs heavier each year that I write. So, after five years of working on this challenge, I would be three times my current weight. Chew Gum.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Awakening Your Genius

So far I have talked about finding your muse as well as working with  your creative youth and judgemental elder. Now it is time to look at you genius and how to put it all together. 

For some writers, I suspect Stephen King based on his discussion in 'On Writing', your muse and your genius are the same thing. It is the part inside of you that is totally beyond your control but brings the goods.

This is not how I'm going to classify these terms. As defined in Buffyworld (Buffyworld is a phenomenon my brother Dave noted many years ago, and it is a very great place to live, though I am not sure what it would be like if other people lived there too, that might just be scary):

Your Muse: is perceived as something external to you that inspires you to write. It might turn up the ideas, or perhaps just the passion for the task.

Your Creative Youth: this concept was developed for me by Dorothea Brande, and describes that creative spirit that is overflowing with ideas and cares not for order and structure, just for creation and freedom. She termed it as part of your unconscious. However, while it is harder to control and does need you to let go of the reigns to fully function, I think it is not quite at the level of the unconscious. Using more pop-psychology, I am starting to think of it as my Right Brain working.

Your Judgmental Elder: this was summarised by Dorothea as your conscious analytical mind. Very useful in the editing stages, and in the general process of getting you to sit down and write even if you don't feel like it. I think this can be viewed as you Left Brain nature, the logical and ordered aspect of your personality. Not so strong in a lot of 'artistic' souls, but can be cultivated and is very necessary for actually producing an end result.

And then there is Your Genius.

This I believe operates at the real subconscious level. It is involved in that moment where the brilliant solution just suddenly appears fully formed in your mind. It sits there and gobbles away at your problems, and given time and opportunity, it will spit back to you an answer.

Now, Dorothea argues that she believes absolutely everyone has some genius in them, some more than others and some are better at accessing and utilising theirs, but still everyone has one. It is a very nice thought, and idealistically I would like to say I agreed. Unfortunately, I know too many people. In reality there are a few people you just meet and think: wow, you have no spark in you whatsoever, do you? Which is nasty, possibly, though often they do not care and think spark is something to be avoided. Is it mean if it's only an insult in your perception? Well, I suppose so, because my intent is still to think less of them. But it does not change the fact that I do believe that most people have a spark of genius, and a very select few might have originally had it, but something horrible in their childhoods, maybe a great aunt with a love of cats and a hatred of little boys, killed that spark.

Given that premise, if you are reading this blog, and have got this far down the page, you are probably interested in writing, and therefore most likely has some spark within you. So, let us work under the happy belief that if you are reading this, you have some genius.

Therefore, the goal must be to utilise this as much as possible. Clearly, the more 'Aha!' moments you have, a) the more exciting your writing will be for you, b) the more exciting it will be fore your reader and c) the less conscious effort you will have to put into trying to be clever. All these are very desirable things.

So how do you get your genius to come to the party? Dorothea presents facilitation of genius in the following formula:

X is to Mind as Mind is to Body, where X is Genius.

Her argument is that to fully engage your mind (youth or elder) you need to still down the demands your body make on your thinking. Either by being completely still or occupied in some routine task such as walking, knitting, chewing etc., gives your mind a chance to focus on the story. I have mentioned her suggestion of wordlessness. In the chapter on genius she brings up two other requirements for the mind to function at its best: rythmical, monotonous.

That is your secret formula for getting the most out of your mind: spend some time in rhythmical, monotonous, wordless motion and your mind can breathe and think. This is useful information and is helping me to rework my 'wordless' time. I recommend some time looking at your pre-writing activities to make sure they fit these concepts.

So, as putting your body onto autopilot helps your mind to think, Dorothea argues that putting your mind onto autopilot allows your genius to take over for a bit. This is supported by the number of times I get great ideas after sleep, or in the shower. The hot water lulls my mind into a semi coma and bam! great solution to my plot problems appears. (No, I do not then jump out and run down the street yelling Eureka. Stop picturing me naked.)

This then leads to the question of how to consciously quieten your mind without having to go to sleep or run up huge hot water bills (especially since my hot water runs out super quickly. Cold shower, not as effective, let me tell you). The key appears to be practicing meditation. Not weird, wacko, leave your body or follow your spirit guide meditation, but the practice of slowing your thoughts down and trying to stay focused on a single thing.

Like a lot of my discoveries, this is something I've felt God has been telling me to do for ages. I started off with scripture memorisation because it forced my mind to be still and focus on only one thing. At the beginning of this year I then tried to move onto meditation, trying to still my mind and focus only on God. Of course, being human, I then didn't really see the point, so did it sporadically until I had basically lost the ability and the sense that I was supposed to keep my mind from wandering. See what God has to work with?

Dorothea describes steps to developing meditation which are reasonably similar to this in practice, though content of course is different.

First she suggests just a simple test; to try to hold your mind as still as your body.

So, right now, close your eyes and try to hold your mind as still as you can, even if for only a few seconds.

How did you go? If this was easy for you, great. If you were not so successful, then that is a useful skill to develop in aid of your writing.

'The best practice is to repeat this procedure once a day for several days. Simply close your eyes with the idea of holding your mind quite steady, but feeling no urgency or tension about it. Once a day; don't push it or attempt to force it. As you begin to get results, make the period a little longer, but never strain at it.' p. 165.

She then goes back a step for those of us that are slow and have difficulty with that.

'Choose a simple object, like a child's gray rubber ball... hold the ball in your hand and look at it, confining your attention to that one simple object, and calling your mind back to it quietly whenever it begins to wander. When you are able to think of the object and nothing else for some moments, take the next step. Close your eyes and go on looking at the ball, thinking of nothing else. Then see if you can let even that simple idea slip away.'  p. 166

That is the basic skill; that you need to relax your mind and give your genius room to move. To apply it to your writing she suggests taking an idea, or a character, and just holding it in your mind and letting your stillness centre around that.

'Presently you will see the almost incredible results. Ideas which you held rather academically and unconvincingly will take on colour and form; a character that was a puppet will move and breathe.' p. 166.

So, this is the last part of the puzzle for putting it all together, the preparation of the artistic mind for creation.

Let us start from the beginning (and so as not to be accused of plagiarism, this is a mixture of Dorothea, Kate Forsyth's advice on Creating Flow, and my own experience/thoughts).

First, you should have an image, a chance phrase, a personal description, something which you consider to indicate you have a book. Take this little spark and spend time blowing on it, brainstorming it out further; fuller descriptions of the characters, charting out possible plots that could include that phrase or image. Dorothea suggests viewing the whole in a pleasant, indulgent mood, seeing what turns up. If you are in the middle of a work, take the scene that you think you will be working on that day. Plot out how far you want to get in the block of time you have set aside for writing. Start building the anticipation for what you will write.

It is then time to give your mind a chance to play with it further. Take the draft with you, and go for a walk around a loop. Not a fast walk, but something that becomes rhythmical and monotonous.  In this time, don't think on how to write the story, but just on being in the story. That is, don't choose words to describe scenes, or think of dialogue tags, but just watch your characters talking or the action as it takes place.

Return home and have something light (not sugary or caffeinated) to eat. Kate suggests something like a banana, which makes good sense. I have found toast too insubstantial, porridge good but can make me want to sleep, and straight protein and vegetables filling without inducing drowsiness (had left over steak on mashed cauliflower for breakfast today, which was pretty good, but some might find having steak that early a bit weird, which I can understand).

Then have a shower or a bath. This does wonders for the body, mind and genius.

Now, find yourself a dark space and lie down, unless prone to falling asleep, in that case trying sitting. Now is the genius' time. First, still the body, then still the mind. As Dorothea commands 'lie there, not quite asleep, not quite awake'.

'After a while - it may be twenty minutes, it may be an hour, it may be two - you will feel a definite impulse to rise, a kind of surge of energy. Obey it at once; you will be in a slightly somnambulistic state indifferent to everything on earth except what you are about to write; dull to all the outer world but vividly alive to the world of your imagination... the state you are in at the moment is the state an artist works in.' p.169

Now, I should put in a disclaimer. I have yet to try the entire sequence. In the morning I have been trying to still my mind a bit before sitting down to write, but don't have time to go for a walk before work. After work I go to the gym, eat then have a shower, but then sit straight down and write because I won't have enough time if I try to brainstorm and then meditate.

However, tomorrow is my day off, so I'm going to test out the entire sequence and see how I go. I can imagine that it would probably improve the more you do it, too. So, will see if I can implement it more frequently.

If anyone else wants to test it out and review it as a method, I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Until tomorrow night.



Monday, 27 August 2012

What To Do When You Don't Want To Write.

There once was a time, many years ago, when I would write in all my spare time, just to write. My school diary instead of having a list of my homework each day had a new story beginning.

Sadly, that time has passed. There are occasions when I am at work or in the shower, and think 'Man, I really need to write that down now!' And those occasions are great. But tell yourself that you will be getting up two hours before you need to get ready for work to write, and come home from work and after dinner sit down for another two hours to write, every day for the rest of the week, and suddenly the thrill of it seems to be gone.

However, while the thrill might be gone: number of complete novels written through inspiration = 0, number written now through just sitting down and doing it = about 4.5. Therefore, the conclusion obviously isn't to just wait for inspiration to strike. It has to involve a good amount of just sitting down.

So I'm trying to implement some more advice from McDougall's 'Born to Run'. Previously I had been working on Caballo Blanco's advice 'Easy, Light, Smooth', see the post Born to Write. (Yup, have advanced to internal links! Will be going back and putting more in instead of just vaguely saying 'as I've said previously'). Now it was time to take Eric's advice:

p. 259

(just before the final 50 mile race that the whole book has been building up to)

My chest felt tight. Eric worked his way over beside me. 'Look, I got some bad news,' he said. 'You're not going to win. No matter what you do, you're going to be out there all day. So you might as well just relax, take your time, and enjoy it. Keep this in mind - if it feels like work, you're working too hard.'

Basically, I love this advice for three reasons: (I initially said two, but then realised there was a third. Good things always come in threes, like three point sermons, and blocks of chocolate.)

1. The challenge they are about to face is to run 50 miles, which ends up taking McDougall 12 hours. There is no short cut. If you want to do this, this is what it takes. 

2. He puts it all into perspective: you aren't going to win. McDougall's challenge was just to finish the race. My challenge is not to write a perfect masterpiece, that would be trying to win an ultra-race against the best in the world after just a few months training. My goal is to write a draft from beginning to end to see if there is a story there. That's it.

3. However, his advice is not 'if it feels like work, quit' or even 'if it feels like work, try and distract yourself with something else' which is sometimes suggested. Instead, his advice is that you mgiht as well just relax and enjoy it.

For me, I'm getting panicked about word counts per hour, if one hour is behind, I then get flustered and it gets me totally out of the flow, and I'm fixated on every word, etc. etc. I'm working too hard. It's time to just sit back, relax, and write.

So, in light of that, one thing I did tonight was copy all my documents off my little Eee PC, which is super useful for carrying around, but I have to admit that the smaller keyboard did give me more typos. I've now put it all on my nice big Macbook Pro, which has a full sized keyboard, and much nicer button responsivity (yes, computer, I know that is not a word, but I want it to be, so work with me, I am complimenting you after all). 

So, summary of what to do when you don't want to write:
1. Layout the challenge: do you want to write a book or not? If not, walk away now, if so, then it is going to take a long time, and you just have to live with that.
2. Put your current work into perspective: you don't have to write a masterpiece in this sitting, you just have to write.
3. Stop working so hard! Slow down and enjoy the ride.

On my own writing, am back on Book 2 of Castle Innis. Have not finished book 1, but it has had it's chance. I'm going to send it to my alpha reader and see what they think, is it worth finishing off as it is, with a major overhaul, or maybe they'll say not to bother with it and just focus on one of the other 100 drafts I'll have by the end.

Also, in major world stopping news: I've given up chocolate and caffeine.
But how can you be a writer without chocolate and caffeine, you ask?
That is a very good question. I am not yet sure, but will tell you soon.

I had been fooling myself into thinking I was only eating about half a block (yes, a family sized block of Cadbury's, the 220gram ones) a day. Unfortunately, on Wednesday I suddenly realised that I had opened the block only that morning, and by three pm it was completely gone. Worst part of it all, I didn't feel the least full or sick of it.

This was made worse by having weighed myself at the gym on Tuesday... not to give you exact figures, but heaviest I've ever been.

Strangely, spending all your time writing and eating large amounts of chocolate does have negative consequences.

So, since Wednesday I have gone cold turkey on chocolate and caffeine (okay, I'm not quite sure why caffeine got chucked in there, except that I noticed I was starting to drink coffee at work just as a matter of course, and I didn't want to get addicted). I have to admit I accidentally had chocolate on Thursday, as it was part of a dessert so was categorised in my head as 'pavlova topping' not as 'chocolate', but since then I haven't had any at all. (It's now Monday, by the way). This is the longest I've gone without chocolate for ... well, I gave it up for Lent once, but that was a few years ago.

And the most crazy thing is, I don't really miss it. So am taking that as divine help and approval.
If you notice that these blogs start to become weirder and weirder, please notify someone as I've possibly set off a psychotic episode through sudden withdrawal.

(Come to think of it, I did have super vivid dreams on the weekend. I wonder if that is connected? Like the opposite of the cheese effect.)

Good night.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Georgette Heyer, Queen of Gore?

When I started writing this particular series I'm working on now (currently titled Castle Innis, as that is where the first one is set and I can't think of a better general descriptor), I was afraid that I was getting too gory for the genre of historical romance. However, I was reading Georgette Heyer's 'The Spanish Bride' today (keeping in mind that Georgette Heyer is THE regency romance writer, I think she actually created the genre) and I came across this section:

'A couple of round shots crashed amongst them, the second knocking the Spanish guide's head off his shoulders. His body stood for an instant, with the blood spurting up from the severed neck, and then fell, while the head was tossed through the air to bounce on the ground and roll away till it was stopped by a boulder. Someone laughed, and was clouted into silence by his comrades.'

Seriously, I have not made that up, you can check it yourself. And I know, that image could have been taken straight from a movie like 300 (except for the anachronisms, obviously).

So, have decided I'm not going to worry so much about how much bloody detail I put in, because it is going to be hard to beat that!

On how my writing is actually going:
As I was sick for a large part of this week and got almost nothing written on the second book in this series, I spent this weekend going back to the first book which I didn't complete and working on that (as well as sleeping, curling up and reading, and generally still recovering, though I did go for a jog today beside the river which was nice. Will see how much I have to pay for it tomorrow).

Got 2,000 words done Friday morning, 5,000 yesterday and about 5,000 today. And yes, I admit I said that I thought I had about 10,000 more words to write. However, having written around 12,000 words, I don't actually feel that much closer to finishing! But still, at least it doesn't feel rushed.

I also received the feedback from the reviewer of my first ever novel which surprisingly was really informative and useful. For beginning Christian writers, I am recommending the Caleb Writing Competition (yes, I have just worked out how to put links into my posts. Cool, huh?), which for their unpublished section offers the winners publication and everyone else gets a full report on their story. It also has a published section, but I'm ignoring that for now, for obvious reasons.

My report came back stating that there were a few things to fix up (which they outlined and I full agree with) and after that they would definitely recommend it for publication. Yah! The competition is run by Omega Writers in conjunction with Even Before Publishing, an Australian Christian publisher. Omega Writers group is sponsoring the Word Writers' Getaway, which I am going to not just because it is in Queensland and I could seriously do with some sun, but as my first foray into the world of Christian writers (beyond academics). Is in October, will post more about it when I go. 

So, slightly heartened that they liked my work and thinks it has potential. Now just got to get myself back into writing the mega numbers again. Tomorrow starting again on Book 2 (though book 1 still not finished, but closer.)

Tip for today: Hansom Cabs were not invented until 1836, so not very useful to reference them in a book set in 1790. D'oh. Learn from my mistakes, children, learn from my mistakes.
(Hackneys are the vehicles of choice at the time for general taxiing. Kept trying to think of the word but for unknown reasons kept coming up with 'Turnkey' which I knew wasn't right, or even related.)
This message has been brought to you by the amazing knowledge of Wikipedia. 

Good night.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Crippling Effects of a Little Headache.

I did not post yesterday, mostly because I had nothing to say for myself. I have been sick and off work for the past two days. Not that amazingly sick where people look at you and say 'oh, you shouldn't be doing that, go to bed and I'll bring you a nice cup of tea', but that annoying slightly sick where everyone is more like 'what's wrong with you? Is that all? Get in there and finish your work!'

When I try to say how sick I feel, it just comes out like I'm whinging: but my head hurts, no like really hurts, just here and a bit over here. And my throat is sort of swollen. Well, no, you probably can't see anything, but it hurts, honestly it does. And then it sort of feels like my nerves are on fire. And I'm so tired!

So, no one offered to make me tea, I just sat at home and grumbled to myself. I did try to sit down and write for about half an hour yesterday, then gave up, partly because my head hurt and partly because my mind felt like sandpaper. On the bright side, I did get lots of sleep, which also resulted in super weird and vivid dreams, which is always good fodder for writing. I also got halfway through the Spanish Bride, finished Dorothea Brande (her final notes on conjuring up your genius on command in another post) and am a few pages away from finishing Born To Run. It's amazing what you can achieve when you don't work or dedicate all your time to writing.

As you might have noticed, I have also spent a bit of time playing around with the blog (and I will just point out that the spell-checker of Blogger does not recognise the word 'blog', any one else find that funny? No, only me? Oh well). I was reading about blogging and how to do it better, and feel I have not been giving you the top notch product you deserve. So hopefully this weekend will spend some time adding new pages, rearranging things, and generally making this all super useful and attractive.

My biggest regret is the lack of pretty pictures. Everyone likes pretty pictures. Unfortunately, I'm just not sure what pictures I can put in a blog about writing. Here is me... writing. Here is me somewhere else, still writing. Here is me not writing when I should be. Maybe I could take pictures of people that I think would make good characterisations, though people on trams and in the street generally don't like you randomly taking pictures of them, so I've found. Or pictures of places I would like to write about. Or perhaps just a series of pictures of the amazing food I've eaten that has inspired me to write. There are possibilities out there.

I will work on it and get back to you all.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Very Nice Day... Pity About the Writing.

Had a really nice day today, but got almost no writing done. Mum, Jenny and I went to Hepburn Springs' The Bathhouse, and had Devonshire Tea before spending probably two hours soaking in their various specialised pools, spas and saunas.

While I was at home, I also managed to 'borrow' Georgette Heyer's 'The Spanish Bride', which is one of the few books of hers that I haven't actually read. But more importantly, it is a historical adventure/romance set in Spain/Portugal during the Peninsular wars. The book I'm now working on, having finished the prequel which is about the parents and set in Scotland, is a historical adventure/romance set in Lisbon during the same period. Useful, no? Particularly because Heyer is famous for the amount of research she did for her books. In writing this one she read absolutely every personal journal and diary from soldiers in the war that she could find. She's like the SparkNotes version of the Peninsular War!

I did try to convince myself/mum/the universe that I needed to travel to Lisbon in order to help me write this story. But that is the problem with writing a book every two weeks... I'd be finished the book before I actually got there. The final one in the series is set back in England, so that's no use.

However, obviously, once I've narrowed down the good complete drafts, THEN I should travel to all the places to add the extra details to the stories. Though, it will be quite disappointing if I find there are actually no cathedrals or large churches in Lisbon, because I would then need to think up an entirely new plot device.

An added bonus of this plan is that it encourages me to set my books in as many different places as I can.

But for now, it is just me, in my little apartment, typing away whatever I can imagine up.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Just a Quickie

Beginning of a new fortnight. On Saturday managed my 10,000, getting the total for that story up to 60,000 and I think just a chapter or two away from finishing. However, have put it aside, though did spend some time this morning just jotting down dot points of things I want to change and where it's going to go etc.

Spent Sunday practising wordlessness. Managed to almost complete two of my knitting projects (with just minor swearing and undoing of stitches), as well as going to the gym, shopping, managing to put on a load of washing (including changing all my bed sheets - major feat), and cooking Pad Thai (can never get it as nice as in the restaurants, why is that?). Was a very nice day and I think will be a good set up for the week.

This morning started on the next book in the series. Already had the prologue written from years ago. Only problem, I always knew that in this book I planned to have my main character an orphan. However, while writing my last book about his parents I grew to like them too much. So when I read what I had this morning I just couldn't do it, I couldn't kill them off, though it was a wonderful scene. So that is going to be kept for a completely different book that has no prequel and now I have to rework the plot so it's all okay that his parents are still alive and still madly in love.

Am staying the night with my parents, so Mum, my sister and I can have mother/daughters bonding for Mum's birthday. Do not foresee that I'm going to get a lot of writing done. But will then get down and be more faithful than last fortnight.

Until next time.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Born to Write?

So, as mentioned previously, I'm trying to see if there is a connection between long distance running and writing novels. Both are insane, when you think about them. However, both are very natural: we are made to run, we are equally made to tell stories. Kids know this, they love to run, will run even when you tell them not to. And they love stories. They love hearing them, and they love telling them. Give a kid a toy, and it is suddenly a brave knight on a quest to slay the wicked dragon.

Therefore, my logic works that a book about how to run naturally might have some tips for writing not found in more conventional places, such as books on writing. It seems as good a theory as any, particularly for the type of writing I'm doing: lots of long distances.

The following extract is from 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougall (which completely coincidentally, I think, is the last name of one of my characters in the book I'm currently working on), from the section where the author is going for his first jog with 'The White Horse' (Caballo Blanco), a man that has been living in the wilds of Mexico and just running.

' “Lesson two” Caballo called. 'Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a *&^% how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practised that so long that you forget you're practising, you work on making it smoooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you'll be fast.'”
(Swear word bleeped out by me, just in case I have any young and/or innocent readers.)

My theory is that the same can be applied to writing. A lot of people have this image that writing should be slow, torturous work. That the writer should agonise over the exact ordering of the words, or choosing the perfect metaphor. And my reply is 'yeah...nah....'. All that can be done in the second draft. It is too soul killing to do in the first. Even if it produces a good work, it will have caused so much pain, the next novel will be entered into with trepidation. But if writing a draft is seen like going for an afternoon jog, how bad can that be? Obviously only if you are sort of fit already, I remember a time when an afternoon jog sounded like freely lining up to have someone pour molten lead into my legs and give my lungs a good brushing over with sandpaper. This likeness of fitness to writing is suggested by Dorothea's exercises which recommend you should practice towards writing for longer and longer periods.

So, I think I have reasonably good general writing fitness. This has largely come from years and years of writing essays of growing length and strangely in reducing amounts of time (yeah, in first year, I was one of the people that would start writing their essays weeks before it was due, by third year of my first degree, I was doing all nighters to get them done start to finish). Given a general level of fitness, I am currently working on thinking of my writing sessions as: easy, light, smooth.

General update on my writing: the fortnight is almost up, I have just tomorrow, and I think that this might be the first draft that I do not finish in the allocated time. Sad, but I'm not going to let it get me down. I have learnt a lot of really useful things from doing this draft (first of a completely unknown book at the very beginning of a series), and have also taken some much needed time off.

I'm currently at just over 50,000 words. Story-wise... I'm not exactly sure where I am. I think I'm ¾ of the way through, but it depends on how the end actually plays out (because I don't know what it is yet). Therefore, I will write what I can tomorrow, though am meeting up with my writing group in the morning, which is fantastic as we only meet once a month and are still pretty new. At the end of the night, I will just plot out where I think the story will go and leave it. I have decided that if I do not finish a draft on time, I just move onto the next story all the same. If I get a chance, if I'm ahead and feeling inspired, I will go back and work on it and hopefully finish it off. If not, I'll see whether the idea catches someone's attention, and finish it off if demanded.

So, that's the plan. Easy, Light, Smooth – Finish and/or Move On. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Unposted Post

So, I wrote up my blog entry earlier than usual yesterday and while trying to get the internet to work through my phone, I saw that I had an email from the writing competition I had entered which started all this. 

I hadn't even been short-listed.

In a few days/weeks I'll receive a review as to why and I'm sure there will be good reasons, but of course it came as a bit of a let down. Now I know all writers great and small get rejected for ages and ages. However, like every other beginning writer, I also believed that I was the one exception. A competition, in such a specialised field as unpublished Christian Young Adult works in Australia, and I managed to finish my first story just in time to enter. How was that not a sign?
So I took the night off last night to think about it all, the time I'm giving up to the challenge, and the possibility that none of it will ever lead anywhere. Would I keep on doing it knowing that?
Well, I might not continue for the whole five years if the first 20 novels get absolutely nowhere I might rethink giving my every waking moment to it. But, overall am actually okay with it. Now that I've finished the other two stories in the series, there are a few things I'd like to go back and change and I can now do more work on it, etc.
It does mean, though, that I'm going to be starting the long, painful process of trying to find a publisher. I've thought about self-publishing, but for this one I think I'll see if I can find a traditional publisher first. If it doesn't come together, then I'll looking into flogging it myself.

As you can tell from the lack of entry for yesterday, got side tracked from posting my blog entry by trying to work out the implications for my writing of not even getting short-listed.
But for your reading entertainment, I present, Yesterday's Unpublished Blog Entry! (applause).

First news for the day: the whole concept of 'wordless time' seriously works. Took a few days to really kick in, possibly because I was more than usually worded out. But this morning, sat there staring at a computer screen for almost two hours (well, got 3,000 words written, but it was hard). Then, while walking to work suddenly I found I was following my main characters' dialogue in the next scene. Of course, the moment I fully realised this I broke the flow and I didn't have anywhere to write it down, but came back home after work (had to catch bus as was bucketing down, go Melbourne) and have just sat down for 45 minutes and I think I've got it all.

Am now stuck with a bit of a dilemma. Happened to just kill my bad guy halfway through the book. Knife to the throat, was an exceptionally good shot, but people can be exceptionally good shots in books, which is something I like. Writing 'they practised knife throwing every day until they were a master' is so much easier than actually spending every day practising knife throwing until becoming a master. It just glosses over all the days they had a bit of a flu, so didn't really feel like it, or their mum kept pestering them to do the washing up. Have often wished I could just write my life. Think there might have been a few movies based on this premise, a John Candy (?) movie, Delirious, comes to mind, showing my age. Though they never seem to do a very good job of it. As much as I love the Inkheart series (which I do, very much), I feel giving people the power to read things into creation could have so many more possibilities than they actually used it for. Like seriously people, you are being attacked by the bad guys, so instead of writing and then reading 'main bad guy fell off his horse and broke his neck and everyone else got spooked and left' you write a giant into existence quite a way off from you, that takes a while to get there, and then kidnaps a whole lot of them and kills good people as well as bad accidentally? That is the best solution you can come up with?

On the converse side, while writing my Sally Hunt series, I did have to fight the urge to make her just do everything perfectly all the time. What did she do after school? She sat down and studied. No she didn't! No average teenager comes home from school and starts studying right away. Writing in all the fluff that we do everyday: she made herself a cup of tea, noticed a catelogue sitting on the kitchen bench so flipped through deciding which bedspread she would buy if she were looking for one, then decided she might just brush out her hair, she then realised that she should put her uniform in the wash, and got distracted looking up video clips on YouTube, is actually a lot harder to write than the things which are harder to do like 'sit down and study'. Weird, huh?

Well, that's my bit of philosophy for the day, you can make of it what you will. Point of all that was to say: Wordless time works, but now I have to figure out how to continue a story with a dead bad guy, and no it's not the kind of story where I can just bring him back to life, which is totally cheating by the way. Dead is dead. Otherwise you just kill off all emotional attachment to death (okay, not great use of 'kill'). The two options I'm playing with right now: go back and expand out earlier part of book to make this the end - end, or then have my main characters come into contact with the agents the bad guy had been working for, and they become the new even worse bad guys.
But don't worry everyone, by the time any of these books actually get published, I will have changed them all so much that this won't be a spoiler alert.

Completely different note, was just reading some more Amanda Quick while eating my dinner (not recommended, 'she made it come out my nose!') and I think I have found why I'm not doing so well writing the romance part. Please read the following exert out aloud, in the most serious voice you can, it is from Amanda Quick's 'Lie By Moonlight' (I can't even say the title with a straight face!)

'Breathless from the reckless flight, Concordia looked back towards the fiery scene. The light of the moon bathed the landscape in an other-worldly glow... Concordia felt the stranger's hard body shift slightly behind her...[she] was intensely conscious of him crowded behind her in what could only be described as an extremely intimate manner.'

First of all, a main character called Concordia Glade? Seriously? Second, she's a school teacher for orphaned young ladies, and has just found out they are about to be … how shall I put it, taken to London to be more profitable, and decides she must save them all. While doing an excellent job of it, the mysterious dark stranger turns up to rescue them all, without any transport (or plan, apparently) so has to jump up on the back of her horse. As good rescue attempts go...
And I don't mean to be rude, but riding away from guys who plan to rape and sell you into the sex slave trade with a mysterious man AND four teenage girls, is that really a romantic setting? Have you been near a man with four teenage students? The giggling itself is enough to kill any possible mood.

But the main problem with my romance writing is that I'm writing my story from the man's point of view, which just happened by accident. So, I have 'wow, she's really, really beautiful, I want to save her' but it's interspersed with a lot of 'wow, look at that really cool gun, is there anything here I can blow up?' Oh well, when first draft is finished and I'm working on re-doing it, will get some test subjects to see what they think. If it doesn't make it as a guy's action book, will go back, take out the guns, add in more moonlight, and see how I go.


Monday, 13 August 2012

The Slow Onset of Madness

As kids it used to crack us up in the play ground, running up to someone and saying 'did you know the first sign of madness is hair growing on your palms?' And when they reflexively look adding 'and the second is looking for it!' hahahah (kids, so cruel).

Well, I'm starting to count signs that I might be losing it.

Sign number 1: The talking to myself out loud has increased, which wouldn't be such a problem except I was working out how to describe people as characters while on the tram.

Sign 2: I take directions from my characters and am starting to suspect they might be smarter than I am.

Sign 4: I've started having insider jokes just with myself.

Sign 5: Not writing a sign 3, and not caring.

Sign 6: I then laugh hysterically at my own insider jokes all the same.

Sign 7: I've starting knitting fluffy animals.

Sign 8: I want to model my life on Miranda Hart and might be halfway there (watch the first 30 seconds, that's what I'm talking about! But who has a set of tails in their wardrobe, seriously?... Seriously? I can has tails?).

So, in other words, think I'm totally on the way to becoming a professional writer.

In other news wrote 18,000 words on the weekend, but then was just over it all today, so only got 2,000 this morning, and a grand total of 1,000 this evening, because I preferred to knit. Yes, I know, all I need are some cats.

But story is now over 36,000, and has some actually sort of interesting bits in. The romance isn't amazingly thrilling at the moment, I have to admit, but the adventure and action is working really well. Though, have had to pull back on the gruesome details which keep trying to pop up. Had to get rid of a decomposing body or two. Sad, but kills the 'mood', if you know what I mean (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Not that it ever worried Indiana Jones, I've got to admit. But Harrison Ford is 'mood' all by himself.

Have just started reading an Amanda Quick. For those who don't know, she is a successful writer of historical romance (hers are meant to be the good ones!). I'm hoping it will give me more inspiration for the romance part, but at the moment I'm fighting not to burst out laughing every few pages. But hey, at least they are good for something.

Also reading 'Born to Run', as I originally thought about doing a ridiculous number of books after hearing about ultra-distance runners. I think running a marathon is crazy, but what do you do once you can run a marathon? Run fifty in fifty days! Or something similarly ridiculous. Well, what do you do once you've written a book? Set yourself an even more insane goal.

So I feel there is a lot in common between an ultra-distance runner and a prolific writer. I'm trying to tap into the mind set that just says 'yes, I've been doing this for hours and hours, but I totally want to keep going for twice that long again.' Once I've cracked that it's all going to be sweet. So expect some updates from the book.

Sadly not all things translate so well to writing. Have started drinking Chia Seeds, to see if their endurance properties apply to mental abilities. Have not been super impressed so far, especially since I keep wanting to go for a jog when I should be writing. Fail, Chia Seeds, Fail.

Well, farewell for tonight.  

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A Writer's Recreation

I have to admit that occasionally I feel like saying to you all 'yeah don't bother reading my blog, just read Dorothea Brande's book' because of the number of times I refer to her. I am still working my way through it slowly, just reading a few pages before I start writing every few days. Having said that, in my insane writing craze I can definitely tell you which parts are most important to take note of, and this is definitely one of those parts.

I'm now in my fifth week of writing 3-4 hours a day, roughly 6 days a week, along with working 6 hours a day 4 days a week in a job that requires me to read large amounts of information and summarise it into key points. I'm also trying to follow Stephen King and others' suggestion that as a writer you need to read a lot (which is completely true and what I am going to say in this section does not negate that.) For the past four weeks, the only time I have basically not been reading or writing has been when I've been asleep or at the gym (where I do sometimes take a book). 
At the end of last week and the beginning of this week, I was finding more and more that I had to pause in my writing and just sit back because my mind felt totally dry, like I was trying to suck water out of a desert.

Then Dorothea came to my rescue and pointed out my mistake.

A writer works with words. Therefore, a writer needs recreation which is wordless. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But the truth of it has much more depth than you would think. Dorothea challenges her reader to test this out. Try to spend some time with no words: do not pick up a newspaper or magazine to read it, or even turn on the radio. She appears to be including even spoken words into the equation, so no TV or nattering away to friends. Try and be completely wordless for as long as you can. And very soon, she argues, you will find your mind overflowing with words again. It can get drained of its words if used too much, but quickly refills to overflowing if given a chance.

And I have tested this unintentionally myself while away at a retreat. We were given the challenge of not speaking from the end of dinner to the end of breakfast, while staying in a group. It was strange because you were constantly interacting with people, but had to just smile and nod and not say a word. Much more quickly than I would have thought possible, I could not shut my mind up from having conversations with itself. It made me realise that I would never find peace in silence, though now I think I could find writing inspiration.

So, on Wednesday, when Jenny came over to stay the night, I was explaining this concept to her and we started thinking about the variety of activities that you could do that were wordless. Dorothea notes a few writers who practiced this, citing one who started off lying on his back looking up at the sky for two hours a day, until he found his family saw that as an invitation to disturb him because he was obviously not doing anything important, so moved to sitting on a bench in the park feeding the pigeons. Another she referred to used to knit, rather like Penelope in the Odyssey, using the same piece of yarn, and when she got to the end, if she hadn't solved the problem in her story yet, she would undo it all and start again.
Unfortunately for me, I have finished knitting my two large throw rugs and need a new project that will take longer, as I cannot bring myself to unweave them and start again. I am also working on a rather large cross stitch, which I am less than halfway through, and probably has a couple of hundred hours already dedicated to it. But it does take more concentration which is good at times but not at others.

Jogging, rowing, swimming, those repetitive actions are meant to be great for releasing the mind. I have found at the gym if I watch TV while doing them the mind freshening properties are lost but listening to music is completely fine. Perhaps it would be even better if I listened to music without any words, but I haven't tested that theory yet and see some problems with doing so.

Jenny pointed out the usefulness of gardening in this respect: it is productive and healthy, and can take hours without people complaining for you to do something else. It is, therefore, a pity I live in an apartment.

I understand that for some people cleaning and ironing probably have this value, but they are strange, strange people.

I do think cooking works for me, and my sister suggested it might work even better if I didn't use a recipe. As long as she is prepared to eat the disaster at the other end, I'll try it on Wednesday and report back.

My other hobby which I have not done at all since I started writing (and actually for about year now for various reasons) is painting. My verdict is still out on doing another creative pursuit like that, which works on a lot of the same fears I have about writing (that I will stand at the canvas and won't be able to produce what I see in my mind, or that I will stuff it all up etc. etc.) and draws on a lot of the same will power to get myself going. I hope at some stage to take some classes, because I think actually knowing what I'm doing might help a lot. But until then, I might put it on the back burner to my writing.

Another activity which I used to do, which was very strange, but was satisfying beyond all measure of its usefulness or creativity was going through magazines and cutting out pictures of houses, furniture and gardens etc. that I liked and sticking them into folios. (As a habit it used to drive my mother mad, who would open her house magazine to find large gaping holes, but what use was it just lying in a magazine anyway?) How this had the ability to make me so happy, I don't know. I assumed it was through the recognition of beauty and the search then ordering of it. So, I might try that again.

But for now I have decided to try and rearrange my schedule just slightly. It takes me 30 mins door to door to get to work if I train. In just under an hour I can walk it. It's also a very nice walk, most of it along beside the river. I have been put off this recently because of the cold and the wet, and the fact that it was already getting dark by the time I left work. The times that I did do it, I took it as a chance to listen to podcasts on writing and sermons etc. I now realise this would be a perfect opportunity to factor in some wordless time everyday. No one disturbs me as I walk (except for cyclists who think it is cool to zip past as close to you as possible) and I have no other obligations than to arrive at the other end. Also, added bonus, it saves me a train fare, which is a hot chocolate a day (as well as having burnt the extra calories for it. Win-win!). The only downside is that it means finishing writing 30 mins earlier each morning and starting 30 mins later each night. But, if I am more refreshed and have the words bubbling out of me, it might be worth it. So will try walking at least one way, with no podcasts or lectures to listen to, for this week and report back on how it goes.

As to my own writing. On Wednesday morning I did probably only 1,000 words, and then realised that I really was just worded out. So I spent the rest of the afternoon doing my cross stitch and then some cooking, Jenny came and we went to the gym, and I never got back to writing for the rest of the day. Thursday morning I got up and had only 40 mins to write because I needed to get to work early. Was a bit depressed that it was Thursday and I only had 5,000 words written. Was meant to be tutoring Thursday night (which is why I had to get to work early) but college cancelled at the last moment, which meant I could come back and write. Managed to get just over the 10,000 mark by the end of the day. Compared to the weeks before, I should have done a lot more than that, but compared to the few days before, it was a big improvement.

Friday morning just could not get myself out of bed until I was already running late to work (had to buy breakfast at the train station I was that sort of late), and didn't get to sit down to write until after 8pm because I went out for work drinks. However, just over two and a half hours later, I was just over 15,000 words.

Today I sat down for three hours in the morning/early afternoon, and then 2.5 hours this evening, and have added another 10,000 words. So, feeling it is slowly coming together. Am writing from beginning to end at the moment. The other thing I learned today which I will share quickly is to trust your characters for help.

Had one character which I really didn't understand, couldn't work out why he was acting like that or what his motivation was. So just got one of my other characters to ask someone else saying 'I don't get him, why does he act like that?' The other one replied 'not really sure, but what if it is because this and this happened to him?' And from that came out a beautiful explanation of this character's motivations and a possible part of the ending for the book. Glad someone knows what I'm writing about!

If you have any suggestions for wordless recreation, please feel free to share, unless it's dirty, then just keep it to yourself.